2 Polls Span 2 Poles On Testing In Schools
DAVID GREENE, HOST:
New school year, nothing new about the debate that is raging. Is there too much testing, and are teachers teaching to the test? As for where the public stands on these questions, two new polls are out. And they don't seem to offer much clarity. One poll by EdNext, an education journal, found majority support for annual testing as required by federal law. But another poll by Gallup and PDK, a professional association of educators, found most respondents think there is too much emphasis on standardized tests in public schools. We brought in Anya Kamenetz from NPR's Ed team. So just these numbers, look at them here with me. Two-thirds of the public supports annual tests. That's what one poll says. In another, two-thirds of the public thinks there is too much emphasis on standardized tests. What gives here? Can both of these be right?
ANYA KAMENETZ, BYLINE: Well, you know, they actually can. Education Secretary Arne Duncan is one of the folks who's been on record supporting annual federal tests on the one hand - you know, every kid, math and reading, every year, third through eighth grade - and on the other hand, the idea that there is too much emphasis on testing. And when you say too much emphasis on testing, it's not necessarily talking about these once-a-year tests. But it's talking about all the other tests that students are taking in school - district tests, school-level tests. Even as they go back to school now, they might be taking diagnostic or benchmarking tests. And then, piling on top of those, you know, not just the tests themselves but also the prep and the teaching to the test that some argue is taking over school or the experience of school.
GREENE: So is there some way for educators to find right balance?
KAMENETZ: Well, I think that's the holy grail that everybody is chasing. I think that the educators and the district superintendents that I talked to are trying to figure out ways to, you know, improve their students' performance and have an atmosphere of accountability but not be teaching to the test all the time. I think that the big federal education bill, which is currently being debated in Congress, the House and Senate versions need to be reconciled. They're looking for ways to reduce the emphasis on standardized testing but keep that annual requirement and keep that accountability in place.
GREENE: You know, one thing in these polls, Anya, not a majority but certainly a sizeable number of people saying that they would support the option of opting out totally, their kids not taking tests at all. That movement, I mean, is it really gaining steam in Congress and elsewhere?
KAMENETZ: Well, it's really interesting because it's clearly a vocal minority. On one of these polls, 1 out of 3 public school parents said that they would opt out. They would consider opting out. But, you know, the law says that 95 percent of students have to take these tests. And so in a state like New York, where you had 20 percent of students opting out, that causes a serious problem. And there's been talk of federal sanctions, talk of state-level sanctions. There have been editorial boards coming out and sort of scolding parents for sitting their kids out. And this is really civil disobedience. You know, it's kind of an unusual situation to have parents en masse involved in trying to push back against what federal policy is and what the experts say we should be doing.
GREENE: Anya, just think. I mean, this is such an emotional issue for so many parents, so many people in this country. And so many people just seem undecided in terms of where they stand.
KAMENETZ: It's really true, David. You know, this is a democracy. And we want everybody's opinion. At the same time, it's so easily, you know, based on people's personal experience with their own kids in school. And I think it's pretty hard to resolve.
GREENE: Anya Kamenetz from NPR's Ed team. Thanks as always, Anya.
KAMENETZ: Thanks, David. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.